Kicking Some Badger Butt

It was very satisfying, indeed, to watch Ohio State crush Wisconsin today, 93-65.  The blow-out win was a fitting send-off to David Lighty, Jon Diebler, and Dallas Lauderdale, who will go down as one of the best — and certainly most beloved — senior classes in Ohio State hoops history.  It also was nice to see the Buckeyes “deal with it,” to use Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan’s deathless phrase.

Ohio State coach Thad Matta has molded together a really wonderful team.  It is staggering that the Buckeyes scored 93 points on the Badgers, who are one of the best defensive teams in the country.  Before today, Wisconsin had allowed only one team to score even 70 points.  But today, the Buckeyes beat the Badgers inside and beat the Badgers outside.  Jon Diebler led Ohio State in raining threes, as the Buckeyes shot a stunning 14 out of 15 from behind the arc.  Jared Sullinger, Dallas Lauderdale, and David Lighty also put up a lot of points in the paint, and the Buckeyes out-rebounded the Badgers as well.  Finally, Aaron Craft played a virtually flawless offensive floor game, dishing out 6 assists while having zero turnovers.  If Ohio State executes like that on the offensive end in the rest of its games this season, it will be a very hard team for anyone to beat.

On the defensive end, the Buckeyes shut down Jordan Taylor, who had torched the Buckeyes in Madison, and also took the Badgers’ excellent forward, Jon Leuer, out of his game.  The Buckeyes can play a suffocating man-to-man, as they did today, and their offensive efficiency also puts pressure on the opposing team’s offense.  When Ohio State is scoring on virtually every trip down the court, and often with a three, the temptation for the other team to come down and try to score quickly is difficult to resist — and often quick shots are bad shots.

The Buckeyes now need to put this very satisfying win behind them.  They move on to the Big Ten Tournament as the number one seed.  That tournament doesn’t mean much, except as a vehicle to cement an overall no. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.  The Buckeyes need to avoid injury, stay sharp, and let some of their back-ups play — and then they need to get ready for The Big Dance.

Advertisements

Looking To “Deal With It”

The Ohio State Buckeyes were undefeated until they traveled to Madison, Wisconsin to play the Badgers.  The Buckeyes built a 15-point lead early in the second half, but then Jordan Taylor caught fire.  He was unconscious for the rest of the game and, with some help from his teammates, he led Wisconsin to victory.

Losing is no big deal in college basketball.  There hasn’t been a undefeated team in decades, and there is no shame in losing at Wisconsin — where the Badgers lose only once in a blue moon.  But what made the loss memorable was that Jared Sullinger mentioned that he was spit upon as Wisconsin fans stormed the court and that, when Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan was asked about the incident a few days later, his message was that Wisconsin had won the game and the Buckeyes just needed to “deal with it.”  Ryan’s flippant comment has been seized upon by Buckeyes’ fans as a bit of a battle cry.

Ohio State hopes to “deal with it” tomorrow, when they play the Badgers at Value City Arena in the last regular-season game of the year.  It should be a great atmosphere.  Red “Deal With It” towels will be handed out to all of the students in the Nut House.  And there will be more on the line than just working to get some payback against Wisconsin.  It will be Senior Day, with Ohio State stalwarts David Lighty, Jon Diebler, and Dallas Lauderdale playing their final home games.  And if the Buckeyes win, they will win the Big Ten regular season title outright.

The Badgers are on a winning streak against Ohio State.  In addition to their win over the no. 1 Buckeyes early this basketball season, they also beat the no. 1 Buckeyes in football.  Now the basketball Buckeyes are no. 1, again.  Let’s hope they turn the tables on the Badgers tomorrow.

The Journey

Kish and I have become hooked on The JourneyThe Journey is a weekly, half-hour Big Ten Network TV show that runs during the basketball season.  It doesn’t have a host, or talking heads, or show clips of game highlights.  Instead, it covers behind-the-scenes stories of Big Ten basketball players, coaches, athletic directors and fans.  It is another example of the truism that there is nothing so fascinating as individual human beings and their personal stories.

Typically, The Journey will follow three or four storylines each episode, with the different subjects woven together into a kind of tapestry.  The show is granted exceptional, behind-the-scenes access to the players and coaches, to the workout rooms, the long bus rides, the timeout huddles when the game is in the balance, and the locker room jubilation and disappointment.  Viewers of The Journey have learned about what a fine person Michigan’s Darius Morris must be, as he has dealt with the death of a close friend from a debilitating disease.  We’ve seen the commitment of the Illinois student section, the Orange Crush, as they perform charitable work and then travel for hours to cheer their team during a key away game.  We’ve heard Minnesota’s Trevor Mbakwe talk about overcoming his past mistakes, seen Northwestern’s Mighty Mite Iron Man, Juice Thompson, conditioning himself to play every minute of every game, and listened to Ohio State’s Dallas Lauderdale talk about his mother and the limitations imposed by her illness.  The stories are well presented and told by the subjects themselves and the production values are excellent.  The end product is riveting television.

The Journey reminds you that these athletic gods that we alternately revere and criticize are just young men who are specially gifted in some respects but who are dealing with normal, everyday issues in many other ways.  You can’t help but admire the athletes who are featured.  And that, really, is the problem with the show.  What is an Ohio State fan like me supposed to do when I learn that Darius Morris of Michigan — Michigan, for heaven’s sake! — seems to be a really good kid?

Burying The Gophers

Ohio State rolled on today, beating the Golden Gophers in Minneapolis 82-69.  Every member of Buckeye Nation of a certain age feels a great satisfaction when Ohio State beats the Golden Gophers in Minneapolis, on a floor that saw the worst incident in the history of college basketball.  In this case, the victory was a true team win, with every starter scoring in double figures and the Buckeyes defense throttling the Minnesota offense until the game was out of reach.

Ohio State remains the only undefeated team in college basketball and leads the Big Ten conference race by three games.  The Buckeyes now get a few days off until their next game, which is on Saturday at Wisconsin — a place where the Badgers seldom lose.

There will be a lot of analysis of the impending Ohio State-Wisconsin matchup in the days to come.  For now, every Buckeyes fan should take a moment to appreciate this tough and unselfish team.  Starters David Lighty, Jon Diebler, Dallas Lauderdale, Williams Buford, and Jared Sullinger, and principal reserves Aaron Craft and Deshaun Thomas, play a very hard-nosed style that is a pleasure to watch.  They move the ball around on offense until they find the hot hand.  They rebound well.  Their fundamentals are sound, and they usually end up getting a good shot.  On defense, they stick to their opponents and don’t let up.  There is a reason why these guys are unbeaten and no. 1, and I’ve enjoyed being along for the ride.

The Buckeyes Begin The Big Ten

The basketball preseason is over, and now the real season — that is, the Big Ten season — is beginning.  Ohio State plays its first conference game tonight, traveling to Bloomington to play the Indiana Hoosiers.

The Buckeyes are undefeated, 13-0, and are ranked second in national polls.  The team clearly has a lot of talent and a lot of promise.  The core of the team is four experienced players — David Lighty, Jon Diebler, William Buford, and Dallas Lauderdale — and they have played well so far.  Those four players give the Buckeyes  firepower from the perimeter, a player who can take the ball to the rack, tough defenders, and a shot blocker.  And Ohio State’s freshman class — particularly Jared Sullinger — has made a huge contribution, too.  Sullinger appears to be a complete package post player who knows all the post moves, rebounds well, and can dish when he is double-teamed.  His classmates Aaron Craft and Deshaun Thomas also have made their mark and have given Ohio State both depth and a spark off the bench.  Coach Thad Matta and his assistants have worked hard to experiment with lineups, spread playing time among the talent, and get the team to play tough defense, which will be crucial during Big Ten crunch time.

The big question for this team, right now, is “how good are they”?  The Buckeyes really haven’t been tested yet, and while they have played some quality teams — Florida, Florida State, and South Carolina among them — they have not played a down-to-the-wire game yet.  That will happen in the Big Ten, and the jury is still out on how the team will handle the pressure.  In the meantime, the Buckeyes will need to take it one game at a time.  They cannot afford to stumble on the road against a team like Indiana, which has struggled and should have difficulty matching up against the Buckeyes.

The Basketball Season Begins

Tomorrow night the Ohio State men’s basketball team plays its first game, against North Carolina A&T.  It will begin what is likely to be one of the most interesting Buckeye basketball seasons in many years.

Ohio State fans celebrate last year's Big Ten championship

Evan Turner, the junior stud who led Ohio State’s team last season, is gone to the NBA.  He leaves behind four experienced players — Dallas Lauderdale, David Lighty, Jon Diebler, and William Buford — who were Iron Men in last year’s run to the Big Ten championship.  They will be joined by a number of highly touted freshmen.  (It is a Thad Matta-coached team, after all!)  The freshmen include Jared Sullinger, a 6′ 9″ forward who was a consensus high school All-American, Aaron Craft, a multi-dimensional point guard, guards Jordan Sibert and Lenzelle Smith Jr., and forwards Deshaun Thomas and J.D. Weatherspoon.  The task for Coach Matta and his staff will be to fit the talented pieces together and get the team ready for a schedule that includes games at Florida and Florida State and a Big Ten that features hard-nosed, veteran teams like perennial Final Four contestant Michigan State and Illinois.

Ohio State’s freshman class is impressive, but you win in the Big Ten with toughness and experience.  Ohio State’s four returning starters bring those qualities to the team.  Last year I was particularly impressed by David Lighty’s fearless ability to take the ball to the bucket and break down the defense; Ohio State fans will be hoping that he continues to do so this year and manages to avoid the injuries that have dogged him during his career.  William Buford and Jon Diebler also displayed real talent — Buford, as the silky scorer and able defender, and Diebler as the long-range gunner who threw many a three-point dagger at opponents.  Lauderdale was the dogged shot blocker on defense.

In prior years, Coach Matta has shown a great ability to blend new players into a strong rotation.  This year, he needs to identify a true point guard.  The Buckeyes will be hoping that freshman Aaron Craft can handle the ball at the point — an assignment that asks a lot of a youngster who is facing hostile Big Ten venues for the first time.  They also will be looking to Jared Sullinger to contribute scoring, ball-handling, and passing from the low post.  If Craft can get the ball past the half court line and Sullinger can suck the defense down low before feeding Lighty, Buford, and Diebler, Ohio State could have a season to remember.

Thanks For The Memories

Last night the Buckeyes fell short in their bid for the Elite 8, falling to Tennessee 76-73.  It was a tough, back-and-forth game, but ultimately Tennessee’s outright dominance of the boards, free throw shooting, and flypaper defense on Buckeye sharpshooter Jon Diebler carried them to a narrow victory.  The Volunteers deserve credit for playing a tough game, beating a very good team, and earning their first trip ever to the Elite 8.

The Buckeyes and fans celebrate after beating Illinois

As for Ohio State, we hoped they would win, but they didn’t — and now their season is suddenly over.  Although it ended with a loss (a result that will happen for all but one team in the NCAA Tournament) that fact should not detract from an excellent season.

Evan Turner, who played his heart out last night, clearly is one of the best players in the country. Buckeyes fans will long remember his excellent play this year and his gritty and speedy return from a serious back injury; we will recall with special relish his last-second three-pointer to stun Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament.  William Buford and David Lighty both stepped up their games this year, on both the offensive and defensive ends of the court, all the while playing virtually every minute of every game for the short-handed Buckeyes.  Dallas Lauderdale also improved his game and was an intimidating shot-blocking force on defense.  And although Jon Diebler had a difficult game last night, his pinpoint three-point shooting  was a key ingredient that helped propel Ohio State on its end-of-the-season run to a share of the Big Ten regular season championship, the Big Ten Tournament title, and the Sweet 16 in the 2010 NCAA Tournament.

Kudos, too, to Coach Thad Matta and his staff for producing an exciting season and a team of young men who were fine representatives of The Ohio State University.  Coaching at the major college level is not easy — Coach Matta just makes it look that way.